It's not always easy to keep kids entertained when you're on a budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do on a shoestring.

Go Outside

If the weather's nice, head outdoors for tons of free and low-cost activities:

  • Take a walk or hike
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Go swimming
  • Play a sport: soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball, football, badminton, volleyball
  • Throw a ball or frisbee
  • Go to the beach
  • Plant a garden or tree
  • Visit a playground
  • Play hide and seek
  • Play tug of war
  • Set up a scavenger hunt
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Blow bubbles
  • Play horseshoes, ring toss, or lawn darts
  • Go camping -- at a campsite or in your own backyard!
  • Visit a fair or festival with free admission
  • Gaze at the clouds and imagine pictures among the shapes -- make a story to go with them
  • Star gaze -- see if you can find all the constellations

Even if the weather's dreary, making a game out of it can perk up spirits. Sing in the rain. Splash in puddles. Catch snowflakes on your tongue. Have a snowball fight. Build snow forts.

If you're more of an observer than a participant, check out a local sporting event. Recreational teams don't usually charge admission, and the excitement can be just as high.

Stay Indoors

If the weather stinks or you just don't enjoy spending time outside, you have plenty of indoor options, as well:

  • Hold a movie marathon for a series of movies (i.e. Harry Potter) or TV show. Check out the library or online subscription services such as Netflix for less-expensive options than buying -- or see if any TV stations are airing a particular marathon themselves.
  • Have a game night and play video games, board games, card games, or dice games that the whole family enjoys. Or take turns picking a game. You can also make it an ongoing weekly or monthly event. Invite friends or extended family to make it even more fun.
  • Create an entire day or evening around a particular theme. For example: cook a Mexican meal, play Mexican music, and watch a movie that takes place in Mexico. Decorate the house accordingly.
  • Set up an indoor fort or tent and pretend you're camping inside. If you have a fireplace, you can even cook s'mores, popcorn, or hot dogs over the open fire. Make shadow puppets with flashlights, tell scary stories, and just be silly.
  • Read together. One person can read aloud, everyone can take turns reading aloud, or each person can read his or her own book.
  • Have an arts and crafts day. Set up assorted craft supplies and let each person create his or her own masterpiece.
  • Have a photo shoot. Dress up in silly costumes, get in funny poses, and make goofy faces. Print out the pictures and make a collage or share them with friends and family on facebook.

Keep in mind that you don't have to stay home. You can also check for local museums that may offer free or discounted admission on certain days. Or check out the library for great ideas, as indicated below.

Head to the Library

Libraries are great resources. Not only can you check out tons of books, magazines, movies, and CDs, but you can also attend events such as talks, readings, movie showings, and more. Many libraries also host children's activities, which can vary from storytime to themed adventures. And don't forget reading programs that encourage kids and adults alike to read more books. Check out your local library's website or newsletter to see what they offer.

Many libraries will also offer museum passes that provide free or discounted admission to local attractions such as museums, national parks, zoos, and more. Contact your local library to see if they have a museum pass program set up.


If you expect to have a lot of time to fill, you may want to invest a little upfront to save yourself time and money in the long run. For example: pick up a season pass to a local amusement park or water park, state parks, museums, aquariums, and more. Some recreation sites will offer incentives at the beginning of the season (or before the season even begins) that can save you more. Or look into package deals for multiple amusements in your area. If you have AAA, visit your local office to see if they offer discounts on tickets or passes.

Another option is to purchase items that will get a lot of use: an inflatable swimming pool, bicycles, camping equipment, DVD player and movies, video game console and games, etc. A one-time investment will yield hours of enjoyment.